Pizza, originally from Naples Italy, is practically an American pastime. I consider it an important part of my right of passage into the working world. It was a given that in those days all of my clothes be covered in flour. I perpetually smelled of garlic and could wield a pizza cutter like a ninja!
It was Friday night staple for our busy family, tired after a long week. Pizza is also synonymous with sporting events, and growing up in my world watching all the big games was a given. I have probably eaten pizza as often cold as piping hot out of the oven. It is great for a late night snack or breakfast the next day.
Pizza can be piled high as the sky like my friend Mike does it or eaten with the bare minimum of toppings. In New York, folding it over before eating is the way. In Chicago, you need a knife and fork to enjoy the deep dish style that they claim. With as much as we indulge in this versatile food, it’s a staggering surprise to me how little we actually make it at home. Instead we wait, sometimes for hours for a driver to deliver a cardboard box that incidentally by the time it reaches your door ends up holding half the cheese hostage anyway. And to think we prefer picking up a frozen one to making it ourselves seems funny to me.
Everyone already knows what THEY want on the pizza. Wars have been waged over what a good pie is supposed to be. Staple toppings like pepperoni or Canadian bacon, mushrooms or olives, peppers or pineapple; do you want thick or thin crust; square or round, and the debate goes on! Obviously there are infinite possibilities creating these pizza masterpieces. Yet it seems that half the time I order out, the pizza is pretty unmemorable in general. I feel like there is a little romance in the whole process of making a perfect pizza that has somehow been lost in the western world. What if we tried to bring it back to life? Make it from scratch just the way you envision it. What would that taste like to you and how hard could it possibly be? Have we gotten so spoiled that we choose convenience over quality?
I think that truth be told, it’s the dough that scares people away from the doing it themselves. At least that’s what it was for me. Most of the time, I would just get a pre-made crust and go from there. Then I thought if I was already going half the distance for a “home- made” meal, why wasn’t I all in? Looks like it time to channel my inner baker.
So let’s focus on the dough; it is really only 6 little ingredients, water, yeast, flour, salt, oil, and “biga” if you have it (a natural fermented, living starter, that is easy to make) That’s it. Not nearly as scary as I was thinking. For some reason breads and doughs have always been a mystery to me. It is more of a fun science experiment than anything. It does take a little bit of time when you commit to it. It makes me think about how long it must have taken my grandmother, or her mother, to put together some of our elaborate meals. These days I have a trusty Kitchen aid that does all the mixing and the kneading in mere minutes. Aren’t we the lucky ones?! I realize that you just have to do a little prioritizing before you hit the kitchen. Put the more complex task at the top of your list and then fill in the gaps with the quicker side work. So you make the dough first. You have to let it rest and then come back to it. Knead it a bit more and let it rest a second time. This makes the dough surprisingly soft and delicate, like a pillow of goodness. Suddenly I was thinking of other amazing things this dough could do. It could be used for so much more than just pizza. Calzones, pot pie toppings, cheesy filled breadsticks. There are options to grill it and make healthy wraps, or fry it for sinful desserts. Are you feeling the endless creative exploits? Even if you are just doing pizza though, the best part is that you can do whatever you want! There are no rules. You can make a basil pesto, do a spicy Thai chicken or a BBQ pie just to name a few. This week feels like goat cheese, spinach and olives to me.
The best part of this whole process is when you sit to eat. Somehow this all too familiar food tastes totally different to me. The crunch of the crust and the simple flavors on top all seem to shine through in separate ways and yet they merry together so well. I didn’t order this off a menu. I made it from start to finish just the way I wanted it. And it is the best pizza I have had in ages. So this weekend I say you can make, MAKING the pizza, the best part about dinner. Involve all your senses, all your friends, family and yes, probably all of the kitchen for a night. Turn off the TV, open the wine and enjoy the time and the process with all the people you love. Now that’s amore!